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EAST CHICAGO — Jaylynne Williams is excited about her future.

Lighthouse’s standout senior hurdler has earned a scholarship to Southern U. in Louisiana and said she is eager to start her college career. When she began running track in eighth grade, she never envisioned herself becoming the athlete that she is now.

In Tuesday’s E.C. Central Sectional, Williams took first place in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles, and it wasn’t her first time being crowned a sectional champion. She had already won two 300-meter hurdles crowns earlier in her career and plans to continue building on her success at the next level.

“I’m not going to lie. I didn’t always believe in myself,” Williams said. “I thought it wasn’t for me, and that I really couldn’t do this. But after a while, I started getting better and I feel like my mentality now is way better than it was before. And that’s what I feel like helped me improve.”

Williams transferred from Bowman Academy after her sophomore year and said that switching schools was tough but worth it. When she was with the Eagles, Williams said there was a lot of coaching turnover and she’s enjoyed more stability with Lighthouse coach Myles Tolliver. Under his guidance, Williams believes she has helped the Lions gain some recognition in the Region.

Tolliver commended Williams on her performance, especially considering the circumstances that she and the rest of the team have endured. Lighthouse does not have a track at its school, so practices can be difficult and often limited. The Lions only have four hurdles at their gym and Tolliver said it is remarkable that Williams has still secured a college scholarship.

“She comes from a strong family and has a lot of support,” Tolliver said. “The sky is the limit for her and we’re just building together and growing together, and that’s why we’re here today.”

In addition to running on the track and field team, Williams said she looks forward to enjoying the entire college experience. Southern U. is known for having a standout dance team titled "Fabulous Dancing Dolls" and Williams hopes to get involved and show off another one of her passions. But before she goes down to Louisiana, Williams plans to cap off her prep career by reaching state with some of her teammates.

“All of my teammates, they really deserve it. They’ve been working hard,” Williams said. “This is out first time really putting something on the map. Lighthouse didn’t really have a name in track, so I feel like we deserve it. And individually, I just hope I make it with my hurdles.”

Last-second finish

West Side started its day off with a win in the 4x800-meter relay. But the highlight of the day came when the Cougars edged out Lighthouse for the 4x400-meter relay sectional title.

Junior Mi’Aija Turks anchored West Side and ran step-for-step with Lighthouse’s Williams for the majority of the last leg. With roughly 150 meters left, Williams looked poised to bring home another sectional crown. But in the race’s final moments, Turks used one last kick and ducked her head at the finish line to narrowly beat Williams.

“It feels good,” Turks said. “I didn’t think I was going to catch her. She had such a good lead, but she started slowing down, and I started speeding up.”

Many fans, coaches and teammates weren’t sure who won the race, including West Side coach Veronica Williams. She was not at the finish line when Turks crossed and assumed that her athlete had lost.

However, when she found out Turks won, her emotions were impossible to keep in check. Veronica Williams screamed at the top of her lungs and even gave Turks a kiss on the cheek for what she believes was one of the best performances of the junior’s career.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” Veronica Williams said. “She blew my mind because that let me know she has fight in her.”

Eighth straight title

Munster won its eighth consecutive sectional championship, and the Mustangs were clearly pleased with their performance. The team scored 150.5 points to beat out Highland (123) and West Side (94).

When first-year coach Larry Hautzinger hoisted the trophy from the press box, his athletes hugged and high-fived each other and Hautzinger said he couldn’t be more proud. After earning a sectional title in his first year, he added that Tuesday is a day he won’t forget.

“I thought we did a really good job,” Hautzinger said. “Our distance people did a really good job and our field events people. It was a good meet overall, and I’m very happy with everybody.”

Senior Maddy Lakomek placed second in long jump and got a bit emotional when talking about her last prep season. She said Munster is a tight-knit team and that she’s trying to make as many memories as she can with her childhood friends.

“It’s ending soon, so I’m just cheering on all of my teammates and working really hard in all of my events to try to soak in all of the time we have,” said Lakomek, who is the Mustangs’ team captain.” I want to hold onto it as long as I can.”

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Sports Reporter

James Boyd is the Lake County prep sports reporter for The Times. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a proud native of Romeoville, Illinois. Before anything else, his main goal in life is to spread love and light.